Home is where your heart is | Daily News

Home is where your heart is

The attachment a person can have with his/her home is something that cannot be explained in words. In fact, separation from a house can be as traumatic as being separated from a loved one. The bond with the house and its master or the bond it has with its inhabitants is very strong. Archworld speaks to Principal Architect, Russell Dandeniya Chartered Architects, Director, RDC Architects (Pvt) Ltd, Archt. Russell Dandeniya, on personal housing that cantake on a life of its own.

“Personalities are different and the needs and aspirations of our clients are also very different. If we are designing a perfect house for a client there are the ideologies, the requirements and the psychological aspects of that particular Client that need to be embedded in that particular house. That is essential,” said Dandeniya.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1839 that best exemplifies this. The master of the mansion Roderick Usher is convinced that the mansion he lives in is alive and that it has power and control over him and is the cause of his deteriorating health and terrible fears. Though the story may not be true, Poe’s story best illustrates the fascinating connection a man can have with his house/ the built environment - a connection between spaces and man.

The narrator of the story says – ‘As I came in sight of the place, my spirits sank. They grew as dark and dull as the sky above me, and as sad as the cold, grey walls of the building before my eyes.

I did not know the reason for this feeling of extreme misery, unless it resulted from the general appearance of decay in the house. A strange idea grew in my mind. I believed that the air which surrounded the house was different from the rest of God’s air,’

What is apparent is that there is definitely a connection between house/ built environment and the human. And though Poe’s tale may be fictitious, its context today is very relevant.


Dandeniya’s creations of course promote minimalism, simplicity and sober characters. But our society is chaotic he points out. Sri Lanka, he says is much better than what it was previously and everything has become orderly with a nice road network. Whatever the outside environment is, we have to live with that. So the home should be a relaxing place. I think the rooms and the interior should be more simple, elegant and more rustic,” said Dandeniya.

He points out that the climate is a very important factor when doing a house. People are moving with air conditioning and various other in-house luxuries as a trend – they do not really need it and ignore the contextual strengths that should be in the design. “If you build a house in a very nice surrounding, then probably air conditioning might not be important throughout the year. February to April could be the hottest time of the year and we feel the rise in temperature. But other than that we have a comfortable climate. When we are planning and designing we have to consider this factor and also the monsoonal rain and wind. So we need to opt for a passive cooling system. So we can create wind corridors in that particular house. But it all depends on the micro climate, because there may be high rise buildings, earth undulation, rocks, large trees, mountains around, so we get different wind patterns. So we have to analyze the wind patterns and the placement of the house accordingly,” explained Dandeniya.

Optimum sunlight

He went onto explain that most importantly we have to analyze the sun path to get optimum sunlight in to the house to create a healthy environment. The idea is that the bedroom should get morning sunlight to disinfect possible bacterial effects.

“We have to work with four major aspects – the sun path, green & vegetation foliage, cross ventilation with monsoonal rain, monsoonal wind or micro climatic wind condition and a passive cooling system inside the house where we could minimize room temperature at least by three degrees,” added Dandeniya.

A personal house is an extension of the person’s personality. People like to show their personality through a personalized house – they may request for a more majestic and grandeur design while others may be humble and request for a design that reflects their humility. Perhaps from the outer appearance people won’t be able to identify who exactly is living inside. So it all depends on the client. “Actually if we are putting up a very nice house in front of a very busy dusty road then we need to be mindful of the noise coming from the road and also guard against polluted air getting in. So we have to create a calm and cool environment inside that will give the inhabitant peace of mind,”

Healing aspect

A house is for life. The healing aspect should be there irrespective of who the inhabitant is. A nervous disposition may be a temporary state, therefore, he points out that when the client may exhibit a nervous temperament he (the architect) has to come up with a design that has a soothing effect on the mind of the client, a house perhaps that creates a sense of calm using the micro climate - perhaps with a view of lush greenery or a lake nearby or a picturesque surrounding.

“Spaces, colors, various attitudes towards building have to be analyzed carefully as per the requirements of the client. By understanding the client’s needs in wider and broader detail, we then design the house through our findings. Some clients come with long and vast requirements. So as architects we have to be more focused and deliver the most appropriate solutions. The ideal house for anyone would depend on their budget and requirements. For me an ideal house would be a flexible and simple one which would grow over time with its requirements. It should be simple and address the immediate needs,” said Dandeniya.

Coping with the weather is the most important aspect for Sri Lankan houses. This is when we speak of water proofing, heat proofing when you are using flat slabs on the roof, using doors and windows without any shading devices and minimizing the heat gain. These are the most important aspects. For me tips I would give would be – not to use cement block walls for master bedrooms, the master bedroom should not be placed to the west side where after office hours’ a lot of heat gain could be accumulated and also it should not be under a flat concrete slab. Another tip is the multiple usage of spaces. The dining space can be used for tuition for kids, watching TV & for family gatherings also. We have to carefully design those spaces for many purposes.

Be practical

He points out that some clients are daydreamers in his words and not at all practical. They have so many requirements but no financial capacity. Others are practical and pragmatic and understand that the architect knows what he or she is talking about. There is also another category who place their faith in myths and astrological beliefs. This is something that Dandeniya does not agree with and quips that they should be sent back to the Astrologer! “I send them all back home because I only work with people who respect architects. I am not interested with these myths that have no practical value. I like dealing with clients who have a proper understanding of their budget and have a certain degree of confidence in the architect,” explained Dandeniya.

Dandeniya also stated that he loves to work with clients who have a good understanding of what they really need and that he loves to work with clients who do not know anything about Architecture since he/she is going to get the service of a member of a field unknown to him/her.

“People with half- baked ideas who know very little about Architecture go on google/yahoo and come up with notions of the best houses in the world and want to incorporate those ideas into their designs which makes the situation very difficult. The situation is made worse when they also believe in these myths and astrological beliefs.

His strategy

My strategy is if a client hires me and allows me to do my job, I charge my standard fee. If he tries to teach me architecture, I am charging twice as much.

If a client is teaching me architecture and how to design the house, I charge three times as much. Then there are clients that respect the architect, that respect us, so working with them is easy and it is a pleasure. They are sensible, they have common sense and they do not have these silly notions,” pointed out Dandeniya.

Nowadays technology is very advanced. Architects can create 3-D designs. Once you design and build a house there is no going back. If you want to start over again you will have to demolish the house. But Dandeniya assures us that with the advanced technology available if both the architect and client are on the same page then there won’t be a mistake.